Appreciating Our Professors: Martin F. Guggenheim


I was the idiot in civil procedure who asked, on the first day of class, “So what happened to the plaintiff after remand?”  Actually, I’m not sure I understood or used the word “remand.”  But I definitely wanted to know what happened to the parties after the decision.

I will never forget my professor’s response.  She became quiet.  She narrowed her eyes.  She squinted at me in a way that suggested she was repulsed by the question.  Of course, everyone else in the 100-person class looked at me as well.   Finally she said, “It doesn’t matter.”

We continued with another case.

Looking back, I understand the pedagogical reason for the response.  She wanted me to start thinking differently, to read cases not just to find out “what happened” but to understand principles, reasoning, and doctrine.   I learned civil procedure well, and I considered paying tribute to this fine professor on the blog.  It is no small feat to help students change they way they think. 

But I want to use my space to thank another professor who helped change the way I think, Professor Marty Guggenheim.  After two years of law school, I had come to view law primarily as an interesting intellectual exercise.   I had forgotten the people who were involved in the disputes.  I was no longer interested in their stories.  Professor Guggenheim helped me see that the people in the cases mattered, and he showed me how to draw on a solid theoretical understanding of law to help people.

Professor Guggenheim was my professor as part of my participation the Family Law Clinic at NYU.  He supervised students who assisted clinic clients, and he taught a course in children’s rights in conjunction with the clinic.  Under his guidance, I wrote my first real brief.   I remember feeling panicked about submitting to the court:  the stakes were so high; a child’s placement in a foster home was at stake.  Professor Guggenheim’s advice about the brief was outstanding.  I don’t recall the specifics of the legal point, but he helped me understand a statutory construction argument that had eluded me, and he showed me how to improve connections between sentences and paragraphs to clarify and strengthen my argument.  He reviewed and critiqued multiple drafts of a fairly long brief.  After the second or third draft, I had a “lightening bolt moment”:  I understood both the power of words to help real people and the importance of precision in statutes.

This moment of discovery was one of many.  Under Professor Guggenheim’s guidance, I conducted hearings in family court, interviewed clients, submitted briefs, interviewed and selected an expert witness, and challenged my own assumptions about the theoretical foundations of children’s rights.  Professor Guggenheim prepared me for these experiences by being candid about my strengths and weaknesses, observing mock trials and mock interviews and giving feedback, and talking to me about the enormous responsibility inherent in legal representation.   Professor Guggenheim helped me understand that lawyers are professionals who work hard to be worthy of clients’ trust.  Somehow he made me believe I was up to the task.   And he did the same for many other students.   I did not appreciate then how tireless his efforts were.

I do now. 

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